Visual traces of legal culture and the legacy of Karl Frölich

Banner MPI Frankfurt am Main

Legal historians created legal iconography as an auxiliary science for dealing with images connected with law, justice and legal culture in the widest possible sense. In a century where for many subjects you can find a great variety of online resources the list of online databases concerning this subject is still short. On my own website Rechtshistorie I mention just a dozen digital projects, with resources in English almost absent. On March 31, 2015 the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main launched a new online database for the collections created by a German scholar, Karl Frölich (1877-1953). What is the value of his collections? Do they help understanding the way law and visual culture are studied within the discipline of legal iconography and in other ways, for example in the framework of law and humanities? In this post I will delve into these and other questions and I will compare this new database with similar online collections.

Nomos-SALUTO-INGThe introduction to the new resource at the website in Frankfurt is brief, even when you add the general notice about the Sammlung Frölich and the introductions to research projects concerning communication and representation of law, including legal iconography, However, a virtual exhibition launched last year at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence provides this information. The Nomos of Law. Manifestations of the Law in Picture Atlases and Photo Archives shows items from the Frölich collection, and from collections in Florence and Munich. This exhibition which can be viewed in German, English and Italian contains also a bibliography. It has been created in cooperation with the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte in Munich, home to the oldest German collection in the field of legal ethnology and legal archaeology created by Karl von Amira (1848-1930).

In this post I will first look at the context of Frölich’s career and research. In the second section I will discuss the contents of the newly digitized collection, and I will compare Frölich’s collection with other online collections for legal iconography. The last section offers a glimpse of current and potential uses of Frölich’s materials.

Decades of research under a shadow

Let’s start with a look at Karl Frölich himself, using the article in the online version of the Neue Deutsche Biographie written by Karl Bruchmann [NDB 5 (1961) 652]. Frölich was born in the village of Oker in the Harz region near Goslar, a city often visited by the German emperors in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He studied law in Jena and Göttingen. Frölich got his Ph.D. degree from Alfred Schultze (1864-1946) in 1910 at Freiburg with a study about medieval legal procedure in Goslar [Die Gerichtsverfassung von Goslar im Mittelalter (Breslau 1910)]. Frölich worked from 1905 onwards in Braunschweig at the ministry for the interior. In 1913 he started to study for a degree in economics, but in 1914 he became a judge (Landgerichtsrat). During the First World War he fought as an officer in the German army. Paul Rehme (Leipzig) guided Frölich’s research for his Habilitationsschrift on Verfassung und Verwaltung der Stadt Goslar im späteren Mittelalter (Goslar 1921). In 1921 he started teaching at the technical university of Braunschweig. From 1923 onwards he worked at the university of Giessen as a professor of German legal history where he founded in 1939 an institute for legal history. From 1935 onwards Rechtliche Volkskunde, “legal ethnology”, became his specialization. During the Second World War Frölich served temporarily again in the army. From 1945 he worked for some time at the universities of Berlin, Marburg and Frankfurt am Main. His scholarly career ended with the edition of sources for the history of Goslar.

Image of Karl Frölich, 1952 - Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

Portrait of Karl Frölich, 1952 – image Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

The weakness of the biographical article in the Neue Deutsche Biographie is its relative silence about the period after 1933. How did Frölich react to the powers of the Third Reich? For the field of legal archaeology it was most unfortunate that the Nazi laws pretended to stem from the people, and thus keen on enhancing the position of the field of “legal ethnology”. During the Nazi regime this discipline was not innocent. Frölich is not mentioned in classic studies about German lawyers between 1933 and 1945 such as Ingo Müller, Furchtbare Juristen. Die unbewältigte Vergangenheit unserer Justiz (Munich 1987; 2nd ed., Berlin 2014) and Bernd Rüthers, Entartetes Recht. Rechtslehren und Kronjuristen im Dritten Reich (Munich 1988).

Gerhard Köbler (Innsbruck) contributed a chapter on Frölich for the volume Giessener Gelehrte in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hans Georg Gundel (ed.) (Marburg 1982) 242-250. Recently Lars Esterhaus wrote his dissertation about Frölich [Bild – Volk – Gegenstand : Grundlagen von Karl Frölichs „rechtlicher Volkskunde“ (…) [Image-Nation-Object: Foundations of Karl Frölich’s “legal ethnology”] (diss. Giessen 2012; Marburg 2014)]. On his website Gerhard Koebler has created a succinct overview of law professors at the Unviersity of Giessen between 1607 and 2007, with also basic information about Frölich’s career. At his webpage Wer war wer im Deutschen Recht [Who’s who in German law], a massive overview of German lawyers with also a search interface, Koebler adds some crucial facts. In 1941 Frölich became a Gaugruppenverwalter and Hochschullehrer des Gaues Nassau-Hessen des NS-Rechtswahrerbundes. After a year in this role Frölich did active service again in the German army. The university of Giessen closed in the summer of 1942. In 1945 Frölich resumed teaching legal history. In 1946 his behaviour during the war was subject of a procedure for denazification. In July 1946 this procedure started, and two months later he was said to be unbelastet, “correct”, but the military government nevertheless suspended him in November 1946. Still in 1946 the ministry of the interior invested him again with his office, but took away his status as a state official (Beamtenstatus). On February 1, 1949 his professorship ended, and on April 1, 1950 he became officially a professor emeritus.

In the thirties the Deutscher Rechtshistorikertag, founded in 1927, was still a new phenomenon. During the twelve years of the Third Reich only two Tagungen were held, in Cologne (1934) and Tübingen (1936). In Tübingen at the fifth conference Frölich read a paper about the creation of an atlas for legal ethnology (‘Die Schaffung eines Atlas der rechtlichen Volkskunde für das deutschsprachige Gebiet’). Hans Frank, the German minister of justice, held a speech in which he encouraged scholars to enlist the services of legal history for German contemporary law.

I give you this additional information with only brief comments. There was a wide variety of living as a lawyer under the Nazi regime, from supporting explicitly the new Nazi legal order and its ideology at one side, and outright resistance against the regime at the other end. For many people daily life in the Third Reich must have been a grey and grim zone of finding one’s way in a time and places where angels fear to tread. Even at a distance of two generations scholars living now need to imagine themselves in front of the possible deadly choices facing Germans in that dark period. As for Giessen, allied bombers caused great damage to the city in December 1944. After the war the university was at first closed. Only after a few years the university could start again, and only in 1965 a law faculty began again.

Barbara Dölemeyer, responsible for the project to digitize Frölich’s collection, has created a bibliography of Frölich’s publications since 1921. Earlier on she published ‘Karl Frölich und das Institut für Rechtsgeschichte’, in: Rechtswissenschaft im Wandel, Festschrift des Fachbereichs Rechtswissenschaft zum 400-jährigen Gründungsjubiläum der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Walter Gropp, Martin Lipp and Heinhard Steiger (eds.) (Tübingen 2007) 1–22, and a shorter article, ‘Bilder als Zeichen alten Rechts – Die Sammlung Frölich’ [Images as signs of old law: The Frölich Collection], Rechtsgeschichte 4 (2004) 264-268. Karl Kroeschell (1927) mentioned some of Frölich’s works in his Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte as examples of still valuable research. Kroeschell says this as author of a legal history of Germany in the twentieth century [Rechtsgeschichte Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen 1992)]. Hans Planitz and Hermann Baltl wrote necrologies about Frölich for the Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Germanistische Abteilung [ZRG GA 70 (1953) 431-432 and ZRG GA 71 (1954) 545-548], the latter with the explicit title ‘Karl Frölich und die rechtliche Volkskunde’. You can find ten digitized publications of Frölich online in one of the digital libraries of the modern Universität Giessen.

The signa iuris

The commemorations of the end of the Second World War, now seventy years ago, have influenced me in creating the long section about Frölich, especially in order to prevent the idea that I would write about Frölich’s material legacy – now held at Frankfurt am Main, Giessen and Munich – without any preparation and consideration for its background. Is it indeed to some extent a poisoned gift, not to be handled except with the greatest possible care, or is it safe to use the images and accompanying papers in a straightforward way? What does he bring us for the study of the signs of law and justice? SIGNA IVRIS is the aptly chosen name of a German scholarly journal for legal iconography and its neighbouring disciplines. It was founded in 2008, with Gernot Kocher, Heiner Lücke and Clausdieter Schott as its current editors. Lars Esterhaus contributed in Signa Ivris 5 (2010) the article ‘Karl Frölich und die “rechtliche Volkskunde“? Eine werkbiografisch orientierte Anfrage’ .

The scholarly value of Frölich’s own photographs is much enhanced by the fact that he did not just look at Germany or at parts added to the Third Reich, but at other European countries as well. Two pictures show even Rabat in Morocco. In view of this international orientation a search interface in one or more other languages would reflect the variety of countries more correctly. The search interface contains a free search field (Freie Suche), and an advanced search mode with four fields for countries, locations and places; two of them help you to find all items coming from a modern Bundesland or an official smaller region (Landkreis) in Germany. Very important is the presence of two separate search fields for motifs, the first for motifs from a contemporary perspective and the second field for the motifs according to Frölich’s own arrangements. He had planned to publish eventually an atlas with relevant photographs and descriptions for Germany, starting with the region Hessen. The last search field allows you to filter for items and the three present locations of Frölich’s images, papers and other materials. A separate page introduces the subjects and motifs used by Frölich to catalogue and describe his findings, and a more contemporary list of classifications used for the digitized items.

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 - Collection Frölich, SF=G1347_F4124_01a

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 – image Sammlung Frölich

The database at Frankfurt am Main contains nearly ten thousand items, with for the Netherlands 133 items. Among the European countries Belgium is missing at all. For Germany there are some 8,200 items, for Hessen alone nearly 2,300 items. Thus resources for others countries are only a small part of the collection, but nevertheless this is valuable. It quickly becomes clear there are for my country more digitized letters, postcards and notes than actual photographs or other visual materials. Frölich inquired about cities such as Rotterdam, Middelburg and Nijmegen where the inner cities have been destroyed during the Second World War. Such photographs of buildings before their destruction can be important. W.S. Unger, city archivist at Middelburg, wrote in 1939 he had sent a description of the town hall in a separate letter which does not survive (or still awaits digitization). From Rotterdam came in 1939 two short letters stating objects could not be reached due to the restoration of the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, and there were no medieval objects at all. In view of the year 1939 it is more probably that this museum was busy packing objects and moving them to a safe hiding place in case of war. It seems Frölich definitely restricted his research to medieval objects and artefacts, because other Dutch letters contained the same answer. From Nijmegen came only a postcard with a picture of the schepenbank, the seats of the municipal court within the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style. Frölich’s letter in 1942 concerning Nijmegen mentions specifically his objective to collect information also outside Germany.

“Gericht” at Schleeke near Goslar – image Sammlung Frölich

Back to Germany! Frölich’s collection contains in its present state some 70 items for his beloved Goslar. Goslar’s fate during the Third Reich was in a way determined in 1934 when the Reichsnährstand, the Nazi food organization, was founded in this town. In 1936 Goslar got the title Reichsbauernstadt, the capital of farmers in Hitler’s Reich. All his life Frölich dedicated his efforts in studies of Goslar’s history to its later medieval period, after the days of the frequent visits of the German emperors. He studied in particular the beginnings and working of the city council, the city’s economy and the role of the nearby mines at Rammelsberg exploited since the tenth century.

In his Harzreise (1826) Heinrich Heine had used harsh words for Goslar, a city where the medieval cathedral had been demolished in 1820, leaving just one part of it standing. Is it just a guess that the very presence of Goslar’s remaining historic buildings and locations helped Frölich to become aware of the need for their systematic study in connection with legal history? Perhaps other German legal historians in the first half of the twentieth century had simply not yet done much in the territories covered by Frölich, the spaces and buildings where law and justice got their form. Surely Karl von Amira (1848-1930), the founder of legal archaeology and legal iconography, had collected relevant objects for these fields. He had indeed thought about creating an atlas for both subjects. Eberhard von Künßberg (1881-1941) looked more at legal gestures, no doubt inspired by the materials he encountered in directing the creation of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. Claudius Freiherr von Schwerin (1880-1944) even published from Von Amira’s papers an Einführung in die Rechtsarchäologie (1943). Von Schwerin had become deeply involved with the Nazi’s soon after 1933. The Swiss scholar Hans Fehr (1874-1961) who had studied in Germany, focused on the representation of law in the arts.

How does Frölich’s collection compare with other image collections in the field of legal iconography? The images in Von Amira’s collection in Munich most often show objects, not actual locations and buildings. The image database at Graz puts images somewhat arbitrarily into legal categories, but you can also use the free text search, and anyhow this collection is much smaller. The database RechtsAlterTümer – online of the Austrian Academy of Sciences does cover both objects and locations, but it is geographically restricted to Austria. Today I could not reach the database at Zürich due to some vague technical error. I leave it to you to check and compare all twelve collections, but only after looking at least briefly in the Dutch database at the Memory of the Netherlands where the postcard from Nijmegen in Frölich’s collection is not to be found. The Dutch collection does show for Nijmegen much more than only the court room of the old town hall. In particular the bibliographical references are very useful. Frölich’s research notes, however succinct sometimes, are an asset missing in other collections.

In the country where during the nineteenth century history was refashioned into a an academic discipline there are more resources with images and photographs of historical buildings and objects. On my own page for digital image collections – where you can find the twelve online databases for legal iconography as well – I list a dozen online resources for Germany. The Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur, one of the services at the Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, is a search portal for several million images from major German cultural institutions, including for instance photographs from the holding of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. You can get some impressions of the sheer scale of the photo collection of this museum when you search for a pillory (Pranger) and receive more than 600 results. The Bildarchiv of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the Deutsche Fotothek (Sächsiche Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek, Dresden) are other major German nationwide resources. In my view it is not only possible and feasible, but necessary to use images and information from other resources to supplement and check whatever you find in the Frölich collection.

Balancing questions and materials

At the end of my post it might seem that the background of the Frölich collection got too much attention instead of its own scope and value. Including a paragraph about Dutch towns and thus making this post still longer was certainly a personal choice. I will end here with some remarks about the way to use Frölich’s publications and images for modern research in the field of German history and geography. The Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg, is a very substantial portal to the history, cultural heritage and geography of the Bundesland Hessen. At this portal you can use maps, search for digitized resources, thematic dictionaries, use a bibliography and a web repertory, and last but not least search for images and books concerning many themes, among them for example the topography of the national socialism.

In the section Gerichtsstätte in Hessen [Places of justice in Hessen] Wilhelm Eckhardt has created a database with both a simple search mode and a very detailed advanced search mode. In more than hundred cases the references include works by Frölich, or they show photographs he published. The digitized images of the Frölich collection and his notes are no doubt a valuable addition to the materials at this portal. I did look for similar online portals for other German regions, but until now Hessen seems the only example to include material remains of legal history. Here, too, I would adduce information from other image collections to get a more complete picture, but in itself the database for Hessen is a valuable new research tool.

The twentieth century was an age of extremes (Eric Hobsbawm), and legal historians did not escape from its threats, terrors and destruction. The twelve years of the Nazi regime had a great impact on German lawyers and historians, on the ways they looked at Germany’s history, and in some cases abused and stained it. This image of utter darkness has sometimes helped in keeping scholars away from legal ethnology and legal iconography.  With knowledge of the background of Frölich’s work you can start new research following his steps. Diligent and discerning research can benefit from a number of his works and the example of his sustained efforts to study the visual powers of law and justice. Using the wide variety of German image databases and for Hessen its exemplary database for regional history and geography, and at many turns benefiting from the resources and research of the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main, you can gain new insights for research in a fascinating scholarly discipline which enriches our understanding of the impact of law and justice.

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